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Pay it forward for roads, rail | Transit station on Island

A steady stream of Island residents filed through the Mercer Room at the Community Center last Tuesday, lingering over posters of East Link light rail designs from I-90 to Bellevue, Overlake and Redmond. Members of Sound Transit chaperoned the viewers through the room of diagrams, all set up as part of the East Link draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) community hearing.

Although the exhibit focused on all sections of East Link, most attendees were concerned with the I-90 portion of light rail and the station planned for Mercer Island.

According to the Sound Transit draft design, an I-90 light rail station will be constructed in downtown Mercer Island on a platform between 77th Avenue S.E. and 80th Avenue S.E. The station would either have a pedestrian bridge into downtown Mercer Island with one entryway on 80th Avenue S.E. or two entryways on both ends with no bridge. It would serve as the light rail stop between Rainier in Seattle and the South Bellevue Park and Ride.

The Jan. 27 exhibit aimed to provide Islanders with information on the light rail route, station and maintenance facility alternatives. The draft EIS informs the public about the project’s “benefits and impacts prior to identifying a preferred alternative.”

At 5 p.m., attendees filed into a smaller room for the open community hearing, presided over by three Sound Transit members and a representative from the Department of Transportation. Most who spoke favored the design that included a platform on the west and east side of the transit station.

“The entrance to the station must be easy to access from both ends — the Park and Ride and the downtown area,” said resident John Ewald.

Islander Phil Flash backed Ewald's opinion.

Nobody at the hearing spoke against light rail and its Mercer Island station, a fact that, based on Island support for Eastlink in last November’s ballot, is little surprising.

“The ballot measure [Sound Transit Prop. 1] passed on Mercer Island, so in general there’s support for light rail,” said East Link project manager Don Billen. “I think the biggest concern I’ve heard is over pedestrian access to the station.”

Citing specifics, Billen said that he had received a few written concerns over constricted space at the Mercer Island Park and Ride, particularly in the morning. It is an issue, he emphasized, that Sound Transit is working on.

“We can’t restrict the [MI] Park and Ride to Island residents because it’s funded in part by federal money. But we can improve other means of getting to the station,” Billen said, pointing to bus, bike and pedestrian methods as examples.

“We’ve done work with Metro to see how they can restructure Island services. We’re prioritizing bike and pedestrian access, and there is a drop-off/pick-up area planned for the station. There are lots of ways to get there,” the East Link representative said.

The City Council, discussing the draft EIS at its Feb. 2 meeting, expressed particular concern over the parking situation. In order to get Islanders to use light rail, they argued, ample parking will have to be available, even if this means taking money away from the proposed sky bridge.

“I’d walk away from $6 million [estimated for the sky bridge] in order to add more parking,” said Councilmember Dan Grausz. His fellow Councilmembers supported the motion.

The draft EIS was released to the public on Dec. 12, 2008, with a 75-day comment period ending on Feb. 25. For the full draft go to: www.soundtransit.org/eastlink. A copy is also available for review at the Mercer Island Library.

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